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The rise and rise of hybrid events: has our digital future arrived?

Alison Ledger, VEI Editor

The power of hybrid events is finally being fully realized. Here are eight reasons why the hybrid model is here to stay.

Hybrid and virtual events are having a moment. As the model dominates the events industry worldwide for the foreseeable future, they will continue to gain the recognition they finally deserve as a valuable communication channel. The global virtual events market stands strong at a worth of $94bn and is predicted to climb to a mighty $404bn by 2027. Even when live experiences return to pre-pandemic levels, hybrid events will continue to play a pivotal role in the marketing, comms and events mix. This is not a passing fad or temporary fix. And here are eight reasons why the hybrid model is here to stay...

1. We are different now

The pandemic has created a profound strategic shift in our sector by forcing events and their audiences to move online. Web conferencing tools, such as Zoom, Teams and Skype, have become the norm. The way we now meet, organise and consume events has altered. Expertise and experience in virtual delivery has grown, too. There is a deeper understanding of the benefits of hybrid events and how to harness their power. The old myth that virtual cannibalises live audiences have been well and truly debunked, allowing us to fully embrace the hybrid model. When we flock back to conference halls and meetings rooms on a large scale, it would be foolish to believe virtual audiences will disappear after such seismic and collective change.

2. Virtual event tech is advancing

Event agencies have speedily pivoted towards virtual offerings over the past six months and are pushing the boundaries with artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, holograms, bespoke 3D environments, slick design and high levels of broadcast production. Years worth of digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies have taken place almost overnight, and this will only continue at a rapid pace.

3. Ease of connectivity

Virtual’s popularity has also been driven by seamless connectivity nowadays, realised by many companies during lockdown who were compelled to implement work-from-home policies. Innovations in recent years such as 5G, live-streaming and wearables have helped to blur the lines between the real world and our digital lives.

4. Flexibility is fundamental

In the months ahead, organisers will need to anticipate changing circumstances. This may mean turning a hybrid conference into a fully virtual one at short notice. It is far better to digitize an event than cancel or postpone. It’s also a reality that sections of your audience will not be able to meet face-to-face for some time because they need to shield for health reasons or live in areas with governmental restrictions on travel. Hybrid gives delegates flexibility and freedom to choose the best format for them.

5. Global reach with money-making potential

Without physical boundaries, hybrid projects allow companies to reach new global audiences en masse, helping companies to grow their worldwide footmark and unlock new revenue streams. Expanding audience size can boost an event’s financial viability and profitability over time.

6. Business travel will be slow to return

Virtual events will be the ultimate solution to some of the changes and challenges ahead. Business travel, for example, will be slow to return with ever-changing rules and infection rates across the world. In a tougher economic climate, budget cuts on travel are likely. Flying thousands of miles for a short meeting suddenly seems an unnecessary waste of company time, money and resources. Virtual will serve as the primary way for people to connect.

7. It’s cost-effective...

Event budgets often suffer in recessionary times, but virtual events provide a cost-effective means to efficiently bring together huge numbers of attendees globally. Organisations cannot afford not to engage and communicate with employees and communities.

8. And sustainable

The tidal wave of collective environmental and societal consciousness that swept through the past decade is set to keep sustainability near the peak of business agendas. Major conferences and trade shows attract sizable global audiences and, while this can be good for business, the carbon emissions have a negative impact on the environment. Once, again, virtual and hybrid events can provide a much-needed solution.

Key stats:

  • Virtual events market size in 2020: US$94bn (£73bn)

  • Virtual events forecast market size in 2027: US$404bn (£313bn)

  • Annual growth rate: 23.2% from 2020 to 2027


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